the rewards of no rewards: musings on no-audience economics

September 15, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Posted in live music, musings, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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So here I am trying to think of something clever and elegant to say about some clever and elegant music by some clever and elegant people but failing because my train of thought keeps being derailed.  The other day, as we were strolling about the grounds of Midwich Mansions, Daniel Thomas and I had an interesting conversation about the economics of music with reference to live music and the structure of the no-audience underground in particular.  This has led to some intrusive musing which has been blocking my attempts at writing reviews and which I will have to write down in order to clear from my head.  No!  Come back, where are you going?  This will be really interesting, I promise…

OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs.  10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving.  Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.

Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers.  This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest (ignoring little blooms of hipster popularity every now and again) but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive.  As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are (for example in Leeds we have the essential Cops and Robbers) then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.

Sadly performers should expect very little pay, if anything, for their endeavours.  This is for two main reasons.  Firstly, having money dulls the mind and erodes taste so no-one interesting ever has any.  Thus, by definition, we are too brilliant to be anything other than skint.  Secondly, for almost everyone involved in the no-audience underground – artists, promoters, labels, writers and so on – this is a leisure activity, a *ahem* ‘lifestyle choice’.  No matter how driven we are to create and to present our creations to others, this is a not a living and anyone who expects decent money in return for their participation in what is, to be brutally frank, a hobby is, to be a bit less brutally frank, optimistic.

A few weeks ago I came late to a thread on the Bang the Bore forum started in June by frequent poster KNICKERS.  It was called ‘fair trade music’ and started thus:

<link to article arguing for the fair remuneration of artists and against illegal downloading>

This article talks about it as a joke – the idea that we buy coffee which is fair trade because we want to see the labourers remunerated fairly for their labours. Why don’t music-labourers get remunerated fairly for their labour? Over to you.

My initial response to this was the thought ‘I don’t know any music-labourers’.  I know dozens of often very dedicated hobbyists but no-one who makes a sizeable chunk of their income via their musical endeavour.  ‘Music-labourers’ in my humble context struck me as daft as saying ‘angling-labourers’ or ‘model-railway-enthusiast-labourers’ – sure, there might be some money in it, I suppose, but there is certainly no right to expect there be money in it.  I didn’t post a reply though for two reasons.  The first is that it would have been a bit disrespectful.  The Bang the Bore forum does attract comments from some pretty serious ‘real’ musician types and I can only say ‘good luck’ to those who are trying to find a way to pay the bills with non-pop/rock performance.  The second is that I thought the ‘debate’ was satisfactorily concluded by the second comment, a one line reply from that tousle-haired scamp Duncan Harrison:


Well, quite – no manners, but the chap has boiled down my point to its essence.  All the arguments and discussions about copyright, ‘piracy’, new versus old ‘business models’, fair levels of remuneration, marketing, promotion, the ‘physical’ versus the downloadable etc. that clutter the internet ad nauseum (including, I have to admit, a few points made by yours truly on this blog) are irrelevant to us because no one is interested in what we do.  There seem to be two possible reactions to this undeniably true conclusion: a) shake your fist at the gods and complain about the unfairness of your genius going unrecognized and unrewarded or b) take strength from its gloriously liberating implications.  I say go with the latter.

I’m afraid that if your idea of ‘reward’ is more than some taxi money, a few quid in your paypal account and a glowing review on radiofreemidwich then you are going to have to do something else.  But if you aren’t bothered, in fact if you are driven to create by an urge independent of possible rewards then you can do whatever you want purely for the love of it and only subject to the constraints that we have to accommodate in every other aspect of our lives (money, family, employment etc.).  This simple, eye-opening fact is truly heartening and this blog is testament to the many terrifically talented artists who are grasping this opportunity and wringing as much joy as they can out of it, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

Right, there was more but that seems like an inspiring high-point to end on.  Now I’m off to stuff duvets into bin-liners so Aqua Dentata and BBBlood (see below) don’t have to freeze as they kip on Dan’s floor tonight…


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  1. if your idea of ‘reward’ is more than some taxi money, a few quid in your paypal account and a glowing review on radiofreemidwich

    – this is my reward

  2. Nice. Here’s a guy who groks in fullness. Cheers for commenting Karl. Hey everyone – check out The Zero Map, they are boss. Rob xx

  3. A very timely post; those of us in York have been discussing similar things – only our potential audience is somewhat smaller I fear. Another topic which has been going the rounds is that of audience talking during sets… Do you have more polite audiences in the big smoke of that Leeds? If so I’d like to see ’em! Here’s the last thing I did which, inevitably, suffers from someone who couldn’t take their conversation outside…

    All the best to you and your expanding family


    • Cheers John – always good to hear from you. Audiences for this sort of stuff in Leeds are generally open-minded and respectful and will give pretty much anyone the benefit of the doubt. However, I have complicated (and probably contradictory!) views on whether an act has any right to expect certain behaviour from an audience in certain contexts. I’ll reply directly to you with a more detailed email ‘in due course’ (stupid busy this week). Hmmm… maybe the idea for another blog post has just been born 😉 . Rob x

      • 🙂 Yes, whether one gives a performer the benefit of the doubt, or whether they have to ‘prove themselves’ first. I expect audiences differ vastly between genres (and locales)!

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